Ken Saro-Wiwa (2019)

Melanie Cervantes
Digital graphic

Ken Saro-Wiwa was a prominent Ogoni environmental activist in Nigeria’s southern delta region, hanged in 1995 by the Sani Abacha government on exaggerated charges along with eight other activists. Saro-Wiwa was a co-founder of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), which directly challenged the rise of international oil corporations in the delta—particularly Shell—and the expansive corruption that oil wealth facilitated.

MOSOP called for $10 billion for royalties and compensation from Shell for the Ogoni land where they drilled, for the environmental destruction caused by oil production and waste dumping (which have devastated the local fishing economy, upon which Ogoni and other local peoples rely), and a say in future oil exploration. When requests were denied, Saro-Wiwa organized mass protests that effectively shut down oil production and which triggered a heavy-handed response from the Nigerian military, resulting in an estimated 2,000 deaths. MOSOP served as an inspiration for other anti-oil organizations, including the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). Saro-Wiwa was a winner of the 1994 Right Livelihood Award and the 1995 Goldman Environmental Prize, in recognition for his environmental activism. His execution was followed by international outrage and Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations, an organization of 54 former British colonial states.